Friday, 28 July 2017

Fiasco - mayhem in the Weird West

It started out as a test drive of the Fiasco rules from Jason Morningstar. I've been curious about these for some time, having seen the episode of Tabletop where Will Wheaton played a game. Is Fiasco an entry level game for those new to RPGs? How rules light it is? These were questions I wanted answered.

Fiasco is an interactive story telling game. In some ways it reminds me of Once Upon A Time - players take it in turns to set scenes or determine the outcome of scenes (positive or negative) that affect their character. A Fiasco play set determines the setting and some of the themes in that evening's game.

For example, we went with the Wild West setting in the core rules. This quickly establishes some of the themes, relationships and characters involved. Players choose these and also choose some of their relationships, important locations, and motivating factors. I ended up with a 'government' role, which led to my character, Bart Rosslyn, being the clerk responsible for the local assaying office in a silver boom town (as well as the land registry). He was also the BFF of the sheriff, run by Kelvin, who quickly emerged as a somewhat deluded and incompetent figures, whose Chinese mail order bride was also covertly running a local gang and the saloon.

You can see how, within a short period of time, Fiasco provides the players with the ingredients and setting for an entertaining plot that is much deeper and richer than, say, four adventurers meeting in a tavern to go explore a dungeon.

Each player gets to either formulate a scene, or determine the outcome. They can do this twice in the first part of the game, there is then a phase where dice are used to determine some form of crisis (the Tilt), and then there are a couple more rounds before we move to the finale. Dice are used to mark whether there are positive or negative outcomes from scenes, to help to determine the nature of the Tilt, and also to provide facts about a character's eventual fate at the end of the game.
PCs in Fiasco - far from perfect at the best of times!

Warning - Fiasco is very much about the characters coming to bad ends. It is partly inspired by the Cohen Brothers' films, like Fargo or Burn After Reading. It can be hard for players to move out of the somewhat default role they play of the perfect heroes in many RPGs to characters to whom bad things WILL happen. I think it takes a game or two for this to fully sink it, as most of us battled throughout to place our characters in superior positions, yet ultimately saw them cut down to size.

For example, my character was trying to get his lover, Janet McKenzie, the sheriff's sister, out of town before she told the sheriff of their secret relationship. The sheriff was already being played as someone a little prone to overreaction, so there was an element of urgency here. At the same time I was also trying to secure a ranch which had silver deposits on the property, ideally at a knock down price, by forging the assayer's report. In this I quickly came up against not only the tongs but also their leader, the sherriff's wife! I was obviously trying to get some kind of positive outcome, but in Fiasco that is next to impossible, and it is best to embrace that. This is the crux of the game, and getting past that could be one of the biggest obstacles for experienced RPGers.

Now let's get onto the vampire...


Yes, let's. There is nothing to stop a player setting a scene in such a way that it can really drive the plot in a different direction. Ben decided to bring a vampire into the mix. In this case, the vampire ended up being an assassin, sent from China to hunt down his character, Wendy 'Wai Ling' McKenzie. There was a rival group of tongs hidden in the Chinese mining encampment, and they were working with Rosslyn to remove Wai Ling from the picture (it was only later that Rosslyn discovered Wai Ling and Wendy were the same person). The assassin turned out to be an undead Ming dynasty vampire whose activities quickly ravaged the whole settlement.

Vampires - always good for mixing it up...
The saloon and the McKenzie farm both burned down. Janet was bitten and became a vampire, eventually going on to attack both her brother and another PC, at the end of the whole mess. Bart Rosslyn succeeded in killing the original Ming vampire, but not before he was bitten, and he was then beaten to death by angry tongs, and rose to become a revenant wandering blindly in the desert. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Bart confronted the tongs, played in this scene by the three other players, who all knew the Chinese assassin was a vampire, while Bart was still very much in the dark.

The vampire's arrival demonstrated how easy it is for one player to re-direct the plot by introducing something from out of left field. I think it worked very well, however, giving the whole game more of a From Dusk Til Dawn feel to it. We almost had a script here worthy of Tarantino, which is more than one can say for my RPG sessions. With practice, I think we could get even better.

So Fiasco? Thumbs up from me. I'll give it a further read and may come back with more thoughts on this blog. It is rules lite, which helps our group where many of us are quite tired come Friday, juggling many other demands in our respective lives.

2 comments:

  1. Yup. Great game. Would love to play that again. Really suits players who are after a story driven game and who are able time think on their feet.

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  2. I'd love to give it another go. I wasn't convinced by reading the book; the writing style rubbed me the wrong way and the example of play was excruciating to read. In play it works much better and I'm glad we gave it a try, as I would have written it off otherwise.

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